Saturday, April 29, 2006

Think You're So Special?

Nothing reminds me of how small and insignificant I am in the universe like cutting through that interval between earth and space at 600 miles per hour. Plane travel is daunting. But it's not the 65,000 pounds of gravity defying steel or the 27,000 pounds of jet fuel that give me pause. It's the housing developments as far as my near sighted eyes see that look as if they are flies trapped in a great concrete web of streets and roads. They remind me how insanely populated the world is and what a teeny tiny speck of sand I am.

Then, when the plane lands and the wonder dissipates, I'm a self-important little snot again.

Yesterday, my plane was still taxi-ing to the gate when I decided I'd better check my phone for messages because my mother had probably left four or five messages by now to tell me she was leaving the house, driving on the freeway, parking in the garage and waiting at the gate with gifts and cookies and a friend or two that she couldn't wait to meet her lovely daughter and precious grandson. My little boy had never been to Michigan and my mother had a detailed agenda already mapped out.

Sure enough, the moment I turned it on, the phone was already ringing.

ME: Hi Mom. We're here but not de-boarding yet.
VOICE: Hallow, Mawhree? Dees ees Mawhree?
ME: Um.... yes. This is Mary
VOICE: Yoo not een beggege clem? Yoo need come to beggege clem.
ME: What? I think you have the wrong number.
VOICE: Yoo come to beggege clem. I wait to peek yoo up.
ME: Yeah, well, as much as I want to be peeked up --
VOICE: Yoo Muddah. She send me to peek you up.
ME: My mother what?
VOICE: Yoo come to beggege clem.
ME: I'm still on the plane.
VOICE: Dat ees wrong pless. Yoo come to beggege clem.
ME: Okay, but I'm still on the plane.
VOICE: Dat ees wrong pless.
ME: Yes, well, when they let me off, I'll --
VOICE: Come to beggege clem. Yoo Muddah send me to peek you up.
ME: Remind me to thank her.

Make that ALMOST nothing reminds me of how small and insignificant I am in the universe like cutting through that interval between earth and space at 600 miles per hour

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Rom Com Redux

This is the final episode of MaryAn's "Rom Com, This is Your Life". So, no more books, movies, and articles on Rom Coms for awhile and although I appreciate the screenwriting related emails, please stop asking me to send you $200 to find me an agent, write my query letters, collaborate with me, or enlarge my penis. Seriously. I misplaced my penis in the womb and moms being what they are, mine got rid of all my stuff and changed the wallpaper as soon as I moved out.

While all this research has not made me a Rom Com aficionado, I do think I have a better understanding now of what makes them work or not work and endure or not endure. To sum up what I've learned --

Wait. This is bugging me. Really, people, do I LOOK like I have a penis?

Okay, summing up what I've learned about Rom Coms that endure:

* Story first. Romance second - Ted Elliott
* Same, but different - Billy Mernit
* Play to the majority - Terry Rossio
* Make it about something - Billy Mernit

You know, I wouldn't pay you $200 to enlarge my penis if I had one. Nor will I pay you to do for me what you apparently CANNOT do for yourself - become a writer. I AM a writer and waxing Morgan Freeman's car does not qualify you to evaluate my screenplays OR my penis!

Where was I? Oh yes. Now that I have all this knowledge and even though my demanding new job and not so demanding old one are hogging up all my writing and blogging time, I can't resist taking a crack at Romantic Comedy. So, I'm looking at writing a feature out of a ten page exercise I wrote well over a year ago.

If you belong to The Writer's Building, you can take a look at the short in the files section of The Assignment Workshop under Assignment #7 called Soap on a Rope. Yes, I know it isn't great, but it's not terrible either especially if you understand that the scope of the assignment was to demonstrate in ten pages or fewer, a character's situation that epitomized "take this job and shove it".

So with my loose grip of Rom Com principles, which is better than my former no-grip-at-all, maybe I'll find my romantic muse -- right after I spend $200 on something I can REALLY use to help my career like Final Draft 7.0 and a bottle of tequila.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Da Vinci Over Superman?

Okay, I'm no expert but Entertainment Weekly has apparently confused "most anticipated" with "most publicized" and "the most popular stars are in it" and while I rarely give a rat's butt about what entertainment "experts" say, this is just so outrageous that it's funny.

Is it just me? Or, do you see something askew on this list of the most highly anticipated summer movies?

(1) The Da Vinci Code
(2) Superman Returns
(3) Snakes on a Plane
(4) X Men, The Last Stand
(5) The Break Up
(6) Little Miss Sunshine
(7) Pirates of the Caribbean 2
(8) The Devil Wears Prada
(9) Cars
(10) Clerks 2

Nobody is going to convince me, despite the obscene sales of the book, that Da Vinci is more highly anticipated than Superman Returns. I must, therefore, conclude that exit polls included Borders and public libraries. Da Vinci Code is certainly highly publicized, but more anticipated than Superman? Pfffft.

And who, in their sane and unmedicated mind put Little Miss Sunshine and The Break Up ahead of Dead Man's Chest in order of anticipation? What rock have they been under for the past three years? Okay, it's Steve Carell and Vince Vaughn. Big fleshy deal. Fans have been waiting for more ghosts, skellies, and pirates since 2003. Pirate fever is all over the internet, clothing shops, renaissance festivals, books, videos, and even schools and I don't think it's because of Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball that we have a national Talk Like a Pirate Day!

I don't know the exact order this list should be in, but for me personally Superman, Pirates and Snakes are the top three with X Men fourth and Da Vinci in my Netflix queue.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Trailer Failure

This is a snapshot from the trailer that wasn't.

The Austin Film Festival conducts a competition for the best one minute trailer promoting the AFF. The winning entry is shown before the films during the festival. Entry guidelines say just about anything goes: funny, serious, animated, homage, spoof, whatever. So, last year, when I read that Harold Ramis would be accepting an award at AFF for a lifetime of achievement in screenwriting, I decided to exploit, er -- animate Harold.

It was brilliant, I tell you! My trailer showed Harold Ramis all packed, pacing the floor and anxiously watching the clock in anticipation of the Austin Film Festival. I recorded the voiceover as his wife complaining to her friend that Harold had been mooning over his future award for weeks. Clever, no? NO! It was not!

Sparing you the ghoulish details, let's just say my trailer culminates with Harold Ramis doing somersaults and Gary Brolsma's Numa Numa dance.

No, I'm not kidding. I wish I was.

Thankfully, sometimes that yellow stripe down your back is really a caution sign. I didn't enter. Remember my little voice of self doubt? That one I named Sal? Well, Sal said that Numa Numa would run out of funny by October and even if it didn't, my depiction of Harold Ramis would be more insulting than amusing.

Meanwhile, I have another idea for this year and am about halfway through development of yet another mind numbing trailer. Once it's done, I'll sit on it for a couple of months before entering it just in case better judgment prevails.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Playing to the Majority

Another revelation in my quest for discovering what makes a Romantic Comedy endure came from Terry Rossio.

Rom-Coms reflect the society more than shape it, although any individual example could do either or both. The rom-com leaning toward marriage, monogomy and security reflects the current most general desire of most woman. (For proof of this, check any ten thousand singles want ads at random. The guys want youth, slim, beauty, adventurous, the woman want handsome, professional men seeking long term commitments.) Yes I know that doesn't apply to all, but films are designed to play to the majority.
Films are designed to play to the majority. And, yet, Romantic Comedy seems to be the genre where many amateur writers think anything goes and to some degree, maybe it does. A 95 year old man in love with a 20 year old stripper is funny. But will the majority find it romantic or icky? That doesn't mean it can't be romantic. But the viewing majority may not perceive it that way no matter how well written, credible, and amusing it is.

An important word in Terry's quote is "current". Some prevailing attitudes about relationships are the same as they were 50 years ago and will be the same 50 years from now. Others are fickle. If currently, the majority of film viewing women want handsome, professional men and long term commitments, our 95 year old man is a dud. Give him a billion dollars and put that same 95 year old man's story out after Anna Nicole Smith just married J. Howard Marshall and you might have something -- temporarily -- even if it doesn't play to the majority. Release the film after Anna's gained ninety pounds and is fodder for late night monologues and the dynamics are different.

Not playing to the majority does not mean it's a bad film. But playing to the majority gives the film wider roots to stand on so chances are, it will stand longer.

Another element of Rom Com endurance comes from Billy Mernit who says that one prerequisite for Rom Coms that are memorable (I didn't say GOOD, I said memorable) is that they are the same -- boy meets girl -- but different.

Sleepless in Seattle - boy meets girl in last five minutes
Defending Your Life - boy meets girl after they're dead
Groundhog Day - boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy loses girl, boy loses girl
Tootsie - boy meets girl as girl, boy loses girl as boy
50 First Dates - boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy meets girl, boy gets girl

My "what makes a Rom Com endure" list so far and their sources of wisdom:

* Story first. Romance second. (Ted Elliott)
* Same, but different. (Billy Mernit)
* Play to the majority. (Terry Rossio)
More to come. I love the internet.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Rom Com-mon Denominator

Wordplay is a gold mine. Truly. There may actually be unanswered screenwriting questions on that site, but a person would be hard pressed to find them. In response to my question about Rom Coms that never grow old, Mariama pointed me to a thread that follows Ted Elliott's thoughts on blah romantic comedies.

Ted basically says that when the primary task is to fall in love, everything else is somewhat unconvincing. But, when two people fall in love while attempting to accomplish common or conflicting tasks, you have a memorable story. Story first. Romance second. Simple.

When I think of the Rom Coms/hybrids/cross genres that I never tire of watching and have withstood the test of time -- Tootsie (1982), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Groundhog Day (1993), Romancing the Stone (1984) -- romance isn't the primary storyline.

* Heaven Can Wait - Joe Pendleton wants a body
* Tootsie - Michael Dorsey wants an acting job
* Groundhog Day - Phil Conners wants the day to end
* Romancing the Stone - Joan Wilder wants to save her sister

Something besides love drives each of those stories and it's something I can relate to enough that bell bottoms and big hair won't keep me from watching the movie over and over. Working Girl (1988) and The Secret of My Success (1987) are even basically the same film with different genders, but I love them both because who can't relate to wanting out from behind the secretary's desk or out of the mailroom?

Story first. Romance second. This is a very workable thought process for me. No more pressure to be a romantic comedy aficionado in order to incorporate humor and romance into my screenplays. Story first. Romance second. Of course, that leaves the humor unaddressed. Coincidentally, I am beginning Chapter Eight of Billy Mernit's book, Writing the Romantic Comedy, and what is it called? Finding the Funny.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

My Rom Com Question

As if there is only one! See, this is why I don't write Rom Coms. I just don't get it. I'm trying -- really. And, remember, all I want is to learn how to write better relationships, not map out seven beats of a Rom Com and write a romantic masterpiece from scratch -- not that a l'il lernin' would hurt me none.

So, I got a couple of books on Romantic Comedy and I put this question to our good friends on Wordplay and The Writers Building --

I am wondering what makes some Rom Coms timeless while others are forgotten before the credits finish rolling?

I understand that basic conflicts can either be written in a universal and multigenerational way or associated with something trendy that will eventually become dated. But dated situational reality doesn't necessarily rob a film of its charm, especially if the film's real focus is on relationships, so what is it that makes a once popular Rom Com grow stale while others endure? Is it because the film was written with the focus on the Com more than the Rom and the jokes grew old?

We'll see what wisdom shakes out of all this. Meanwhile, I'm out of time. I only have a couple of days to do some last minute polishes and get my newest stuff off to my agent this weekend because Monday, I go back to the trenches and who knows how much screenwriting time I'll fit in between what's already on my calendar and the lamentable "getting to know you" curve during the initial month or two on a new job.

First things first. New clothes? Clean briefcase? Box up pictures for the office walls? No. Complete my outlines!

Joy in the Journey

After days of gnashing my teeth because the online Nicholl form was infested with bugs (why am I picturing Greg Beal stomping on cockroaches?), it finally stopped whining that it couldn't locate its own server and accepted my application and my credit card. The bad news is that I failed to realize all that grief wouldn't save me the trouble of mailing in a hard copy. Argh.

Oh well. Anything worth doing requires effort and, in this case, you also need gasoline, a trip to the post office, an extra inkjet cartridge, a whole punch that doesn't jam, cardstock, brass brads, a priority mail envelope, $4.50 for postage & delivery confirmation, something to scrape off the gum your shoe found in the parking lot AND the patience to stand in an insanely long line at the post office behind a woman with a screaming baby WHILE wishing you'd bothered to put make up on BECAUSE a dozen or so people are wishing you well on your new job SINCE you know darn near everyone who walks into the post office AND the one person you don't know is six feet tall, brown eyed, effortlessly holding a large box under his bulging bicep, and has not taken his eyes off that darling pink spaghetti top you bought on clearance yesterday BUT sneers at your Steve Perry "Don't Stop Believing" ringtone WHEN your future boss calls your cell phone to remind you to go pee in a cup.

Heh. Bite me, pal. Nobody sneers at Journey in my presence.

I'm not entirely sure why I want to put myself through the agony of receiving another "regrettably" letter from Greg Beal. The Nicholl gets well over 6,000 entries and they can't all be good, can they? I mean, some of them have to suck. Somebody has to come in 6,000th right? You know what? I think last year, it was me.

But, I'm still writing.

Last year, I knew several people who got "next 100" and "top ten percent" letters. I wasn't one of them. Even though I didn't advance in either the Nicholl or the AFF, it was uber cool to read posts from finalists and even winners whose names I recognized as frequent or occasional posters on Wordplay. I probably won't advance this year either. Don't get me wrong. My work is good -- just not good enough -- yet.

So, I'm still writing.

It's actually been almost three years now since I started writing my first screenplay so I'm still pretty much a screenwriting infant. I've got a long way to go if I want to compete with those people who have been at this for ten or more years, gone to film school, live in Hollywood and bump into A listers at Starbucks.

So, I'm still writing.

Monday, it's back to a world where people return my calls, speak to me with respect, admire me for my accomplishments, and are grateful to have me in their corner. In this world, the big dog seeks me out, my letters get opened, people look at me and say, "damn, you're good", I never have to buy my own lunch unless I want to, I get a regular paycheck and headhunters try to steal me away from the guy I just agreed to give a minimum of two years.

But, I'm still writing. Job or no job. I'm still writing.

In the past couple of days, I've run across several "goodbye, cruel world" posts on blogs of wannabe screenwriters who have thrown in the towel. I understand their frustration because I've walked in their moccasins. But, I like moccasins.

You know, it's really not always about winning or even advancing. Yeah, discouragement sets in now and then, but sometimes, outcome be damned, the joy is simply in the journey. Well, unless, of course, you're standing in line at the post office.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

My Date With Drew

Here's the deal -- Brian Herzlinger chronicles his efforts to get a date with Drew Barrymore but he only has 30 days until he has to return the camera he borrowed from Circuit City to make this film.

I remember seeing the "My Date With Drew" website a couple of years ago and thinking it sounded like a ride on the obsessive-fan-mobile. If this is a documentary, where are the endangered penguins? Where are the oppressed people? What cause am I supporting with the purchase price of a ticket? The Full Throttle Foundation? Or, was this guy gonna do a John Hinckley while his buddies filmed it? No, thank you. I dismissed the movie as self indulgent crap and Brian Herzlinger as a dangerous nut.

Yesterday, I saw My Date With Drew on my cable guide and was curious about that desperate loser that used a documentary as a way to approach his victim. Ten minutes later, I was so wrapped up in this guy's goals that I refused to go to the door, take a potty break, answer my phone or get my tortilla soup out of the microwave.

I'm sorry, Brian. I misjudged you and your film. You are genuine, vulnerable and adorable. I totally bought into you and your Rom-com-entary. My Date With Drew is heartfelt and utterly charming.

Oh, hey, I have a new project, by the way. I'm thinking of calling it My Date with Brian Herzlinger. I've emailed Brian to ask if I can borrow $1100 to make my film. That's what it cost him to make his.

I'm a Screenwriter

This electronic blog writing test thingie said so. Shawna and Brett both did this on their blogs and being a procrastinatory lemming without an original thought of my own, what d'ya know? I'm a screenwriter. Sure, it's the identical answer they both got and is probably the same answer everyone who has ever taken the test got, but some days validation is good even in its most pathetic measurement.

You Should Be a Film Writer

You don't just create compelling stories, you see them as clearly as a movie in your mind.
You have a knack for details and dialogue. You can really make a character come to life.
Chances are, you enjoy creating all types of stories. The joy is in the storytelling.
And nothing would please you more than millions of people seeing your story on the big screen!

Monday, April 17, 2006

101 Great Screenplays

WGA compiled a list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays. Billy Wilder, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen have four on the list while Charlie Kaufman and John Huston each have three. I was glad to see Tootsie and Groundhog Day but was surprised to see When Harry Met Sally.

Thoughts? What is missing? What shouldn't be on the list?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Shallow Gal

Fun Joel's comment on my last post about the Nicholl reminded me that I'll be in Los Angeles for a wedding during the first week of July. Of course, Friday and Saturday will be full of wedding stuff so if I actually want to visit anyone, I'll have to stay an extra few days. So, I made plans to do just that.

But now, I'm rethinking it and while I fully expect to be bombarded with insults and chastised for my naivete, here's why I'm waffling --

First, let's go back --

Last year, when buses from Louisiana arrived in my small town and I found myself in the middle of Katrina recovery efforts, several Hollywood folk offered to help. Here's the thing. They didn't know me! I was a name they remembered, but they wouldn't recognize me if they sat next to me on an airplane. I didn't solicit their help. Yet, they offered. How did they know I wasn't building a swimming pool or getting lyposuction with their contributions? How did they know I wasn't a prison inmate scamming people over the internet? They didn't! They just trusted their guts and they trusted me.


To prove that their trust was not misplaced, I made sure that I accounted for every cent and mailed verifiable proof of that accountability to each contributor who went through me. I've sent thank you gifts and notes of gratitude from people who received help. Still, it just doesn't seem like enough.

I want to meet these benefactors face to face.

I'd really like to sit across the table with each one, look them in the eyes, squeeze their hands, and tell them how very grateful I am that they aren't self absorbed, macho money mongers. I want to thank them for pausing in their insanely chaotic lives to touch hundreds of somebodies they will never meet. And, I want to thank them for diluting my cynicism of mankind.

Corny as it sounds, that was my plan -- contact each one, set up a lunch or meeting, and tell them that the world is a better place and I am a better person because they give a damn.

Then, I read a post -- a sort of, but not really, tongue in cheek confession by a wannabe writer about how shallow she is and how her communications with professional screenwriters, regardless of how they are presented, are really nothing more than a plea for that person to get them a writing job or better yet, hand over their own. The pros that responded to the post said things like "classic" and "how true" or something along those lines.

I wanted to throw up.

Not only do I not want to be like that, but I can't bear the thought of anyone even thinking I'm that shallow. Yeah, I know it's the way the game is played -- get a champion and use him for everything he's worth. Set up a lunch, hit him with your smarts and don't let him leave without your script in his hand.

I can't do it.

You see, I like people. And sure, I want to sell a screenplay and I'd love to be a professional screenwriter one day but I don't want to live in a world where every time I smile or wink or shake a hand, the person on the receiving end is wondering what I want. I don't want to share a lunch with somebody knowing full well that the other person is waiting for me to hit him up to read my script. That's my agent's job. Can't we just share a pizza while you tell me about your exciting life and I try not to bore you with mine?

In a former job, I got called "steel magnolia", "iron nads", and other unflattering names meant to compliment a woman with backbone. But, some days, I just don't think I'm cut out for Hollywood. Others, I'm a cockeyed optimist -- or, at least a dichotomous one.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Big Nicholl News

Went to the website to print off the application form and surprise! The online form is finally available! Woo! Hoo! Yippee! Hot Diggity Dog! But then -- oops. No worky. Okay, well at least they got it up. The deadline is still May 1st so in case they don't get the bugs worked out (there are always bugs, there must be bugs), you might want to stick your application and screenplay in the mail -- just to be safe.

In other contest news, Scriptapalooza extended their deadline from April 14th to April 21st. I always get suspicious when contests extend their deadlines. Why extend? Did they not get enough entry fees to cover the cost of the contest? Sure seems that way. But, it's endorsed by WGA, winners have opted and sold, and I think they provide script coverage of entries. So, it's probably a safe competition to enter.

Also, the AFF early deadline is May 15th. 'Tis the season to be writing!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Reality Check

I just saw Garden State and heaven help me, I am Aunt Sylvia, pathetically singing Lionel Ritchie's Three Times a Lady at my sister's funeral after triumphantly redecorating her bathroom. Except, my sister would have me singing No Tengo Dinero by The Kumbia Kings and it would most likely be her kitchen that got the makeover since we actually do that every few years.

Sweet Moses, I've seen the future.

Movies take us places - past, present, and future places, places real and imaginary, places of earth and of space, but most frighteningly of all, places of the heart and soul.

Hang in there with me. I really do have a point.

I can't imagine being alone with the Mona Lisa in the Musée du Louvre, but Tom Hanks had her all to himself at 2:30 in the morning during the filming of The Da Vinci Code and when I see the film, I get to stand there with him. I'm not even slightly eager to go into space, but Apollo 13 gave me a claustrophobic seat on NASA's KC-135 airplane where it took five hundred flights, 23 seconds each, to capture the footage needed for the weightless shots.

And I can't, even in fever induced nightmares, imagine looking and sounding like Aunt Sylvia at a graveside service, but Garden State took me there and I saw myself, leathered and old, singing with that raspy voice that only comes from years of waiting tables at Waffle House while inhaling a combination of bacon grease, mothballs and secondary smoke.

Where am I going with this?

It's easy for a writer to get lost in the fantasy, especially since screenwriting, by nature, requires the suspension of reality and the creation of alternate realities and false realities. But we are not all screenwriters and we are not all capable of creating 120 pages worthy of becoming a film. Yet, how many hundreds of thousands of us are there who actually think we can? It's just not possible for there to be that many brilliant wannabe screenwriters stifled and oppressed by a golden gate that admits nepotism over talent.

Some of us have to suck!

Statistics suggest that my screenplays will never be opted or sold regardless of the number of indy producers who shower me with praise and promises. Why? Because my life is not on hold while I pursue screenwriting. I haven't made the sacrifices, earned my stripes, done the grunt work and left my home, family and job to go to Los Angeles and make a dream happen.

Does that mean I want it less? Yes, that is exactly what it means. Does that mean the guy who sells is a better writer than I am? Not necessarily. But he's willing to do whatever it takes. I'm only willing to do whatever it takes within the boundaries I've established.

If I never sell a screenplay, does that make it less worth writing? Of course not. But in those great words of John Lennon, "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans". I'm a writer. I love writing. But I also love Texas sunshine, baseball, music, and mowing the grass.

Some writers will say that there will be plenty of time for all of that once I've sold a screenplay. I say there's time now. Besides, I've got lyrics to learn --

No tengo dinero
Ni nada que dar
Lo unico que tengo es amor para amar
Si asi tu me quieres te puedo querer
Pero si no puedes ni modo que

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Learning the Rom Com

Take time to be sick. That's my maternal advice for the day. Oh sure, you can suppress cold and allergy symptoms for weeks with over the counter stuff but sooner or later, bacteria will win. It always does.

I am relatively certain that I cracked a rib this morning while coughing up a lung. I've gone through a myriad of pharmaceutical combinations but they knock me out for hours. Then, I wake to the indignant growls of my five pound Chorkie (Chichuachua/Yorkie), Toby, who loves to curl up under my chin while I sleep. Too bad for him that I drool in my drug induced sleep.

Yeah, I'm charming.

Toby has been particularly affectionate since his toenail got caught in the carpet and ripped open a bloody geyser. My boys took him to the vet while I cleaned up the blood and put clean sheets on my bed where Toby had sought refuge from that mean ol' carpet that bit his foot.

But, on to Rom Coms.

Billy Mernit's book, Writing the Romantic Comedy, arrived yesterday and the unexpected surprise here is that the book is not just a lot of opinions and observations about writing romantic comedy, it's somewhat of a course, complete with viewing assignments, essay questions and critical thinking exercises. This will take some time but appears to be just what I need -- if I'm serious about this -- and I am. So, I started reading the book right away and somewhere on page 21, fell fast asleep.

My boys woke me later to give me the vet's verdict and I swear, I could smell Old Spice on my pillowcase. No kidding. Those were clean sheets. I went to sleep reading Billy's book and woke up smelling tacky cologne. Weird. The romance thing was working on me already.

There are a lot of films listed in that book. So, after the Toby report, I glanced over the list and then went a different direction. I put Speechless in the VCR and promptly fell asleep. Yeah, I'm gonna learn a lot this way -- choose a Rom Com not on the list and then pass out.

I was floating in a "you're about to wake up" fog when Julia (Gina Davis' character) said something about Kevin (Michael Keaton's character) wearing a ton of cologne. Know what? He was! I could smell it! In his defense, Kevin had accidentally dumped a whole bottle of cologne in his lap while driving in the car but had he really spilled so much that it permeated from the television into my bedroom? Besides, it wasn't romantic. It smelled like a little old man you might bump into at the checkout counter.

No more sleeping. I got up, ate a bowl of soup, and glanced at report cards but I could hardly hold my head up so I went back to bed. Know what? I could still smell that old man's cologne! I put a clean case on my pillow and it tamed the manifestation enough for me to sleep. Even so, my dreams were a restless parade of black socks and Bermuda shorts.

I woke up this morning cursing that book, cursing Rom Coms and cursing my imagination which had stunk up my pillow again -- until I saw my son rubbing deodorant on the dog's bandaged foot. What the?? The vet had said it would keep Toby from gnawing on the bandages, the boy explained. Oh, okay. So much for my romanticism about old men in black socks and Bermuda shorts.

I went back to bed. I'm still there.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What I Did

Instead of Meeting with Max Mutchnick. This short is pointless -- sort of. Two writers are stood up -- again -- but they don't sulk, whine, or curse the industry for thier bad breaks, bad hand, bad breath, or the bad manners of the man who kicked them to the curb. They go out and make a bad short. I love it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tick Tock, the Nicholl Clock

Nineteen days, people. Only nineteen days until the postmarked deadline for your application for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. Stop sleeping. Cut meals. Call in sick at work. Let the grass grow. Just make sure you give your screenplay one last polish and get it in the mail by May 1st.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Tactics for Making Passes

Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses -- don't you believe it, especially during sweater season. (Picture Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire) But, I'm Rom Com illiterate, (I'm learning -- progress report pending) so let's move on to a non-proposition form of pass.

Literally, use "pass" as a softer synonym for "edit process" as opposed to "attempt to pick up", "politely reject", "throw in a foward motion" or "oops, butt burp" and the reverse of that tired old phrase works for me. I never make passes unless I wear glasses -- passes at my screenplays. Glasses are mandatory. There's a fourteen hour limit on my gas permeable contact lenses and I can't possibly edit an entire screenplay in only fourteen hours.

For my latest screenplay (which starts with an F just like my last two - what is up with the F words?), I decided to develop a structure for my edit process. It seemed to work. I didn't wake up with burn marks on my chest. Safety tip -- laptops get scorching hot so don't curl up with one for long periods of time if you can avoid it.

We outline our stories, we outline our pitches, we even outline our days in our calendars so I figured I could try outlining my edit process. So, here goes.

The First Pass - Story Elements & Dialogue

This is a no brainer. The problem for me, however, is that I can't get always get past a certain word or phrase that I know can be written better. Resist! I must resist! Save it for pass two. First things first. Make sure the structure is there and the dialogue isn't predictable or cliche but don't spend too much though debating words. I already did that in the writing process and can do it again after I get through this critical pass. Obviously, I'm going to stumble on rhythm problems, too, but I must resist the urge to fix those until the next phase of editing. In talking with other amateur screenwriters, I've found that for many of us (if not, most) this is the one and ONLY pass they take at their stories. They just do it eight or nine times. That won't work for me. If all I ever did was edit my stories over and over checking story content and dialogue, then my screenplays would all be 130 pages or more.

The Second Pass - Getting Tight and Lean

This is critical. I've always thought of this as "cleanup"and "condensing" but I didn't really have a clear process until I found these three suggestions from Philip Morton. I won't repeat them in detail so you'll have to go to his blog and read them for yourself. It's great stuff. Cut it out and tape to your wall or put it in your binder of screenwriting tips.
(1) Trim setup, exposition & dialogue
(2) Cut repeated action
(3) Multiply to condense
The final portion of this process comes from Bill Cunningham, in response to Morton's suggestions.
(4) Avengers' trick
I'm sure there is a technical term for #4. I just don't know it what it is. But, this is a method that Bill Cunningham describes frequently using on The Avengers television show --
They would pose a question at one location and immediately CUT TO a new location with the person giving the answer required. No exterior establishing shot required.



Steed and Mrs. Peel stand over a dead body in the middle of a dry grassy field. Steed turns him over and a lungful of water pours out of his mouth.


A LAB TECH turns to Steed and Mrs. Peel...

LAB TECH - He drowned, no doubt about it...

STEED - In the middle of a dry field?

LAB TECH - Could he have been placed there afterward..?

MRS. PEEL - No, his footprints lead right up to the point where he keeled over...

STEED - Or in this case, keel hauled over...

LAB TECH - Dreadful.
The Third Pass - Story Elements Again

Okay, now that I've trimmed, cut repeated action, multiplied to condense and gotten the story moving by splitting dialogue up between scenes, it's time for me to go back and make sure I haven't inadvertently botched up my story elements. So, it's back to pass one. Once that's done, I may very well have to go through pass two again. This might require I go through pass one again. It's a vicious circle. But, at least I have an outline of the circle -- okay, it's really more like a figure eight .

The Final Pass - Spelling and Grammar

So yeah, I actually check spelling and grammar along the way, but I need at least one pass that is nothing but proofreading and that DOESN'T mean relying on spellcheck cuz I am here to tell you that if you leave the letter "L" out "public hearing", spell check won't catch it!

All Done and I Can Finally Relax

Liar, liar, pants on fire. The simple truth is that I will likely go through this whole outlined editing process over and over until (1) I am so involved in another project that I finally stop obsessing over this one (2) I get a read request and am forced to stop editing, or (3) I drop dead.
I believe I'll take a pass on door three. (Refer to first paragraph for definitions of "pass") Meanwhile, anyone have an outline for outlining?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Ten Verbs

Not sure where this meme started, I think it was Brett and even though I answered it in Scott the Reader's blog, Scriptweaver tagged me so I'm it. Those are the rules. I don't know who made the rules, but I'm sooo it. Live with it, people.

By the way, Scriptweaver, do you have a name, fella? Or, must I remain content to call you SOS? I don't mind, really. I once knew a guy named T-Bone. Yeah, it was on his birth certificate. But SOS? Sounds like you're a disaster waiting to happen so I'd rather call you something like Rock! I'm assuming you're a fella on account of all those hottie pics you post which, by the way, is why I don't visit you very often cuz, seriously, dude, it reminds me that I don't look like that any more and I have enough mirrors in the house, thighmasters, hair color, support pantyhose, wrinkle cream, gravity defying attire that lifts, separates and requires a building permit to produce -- where was I going with this?

Anyway, here's what Brett has to say about this meme which makes it a somewhat worthy exercise to participate in.

The exercise is intended to help you more clearly notice when your writing is passive and lackluster. In most cases (there are always exceptions) it's usually best to start strong and maintain momentum. If you look up and realize that you have a lot of "is" and "waits" and "sits" and "lays" as opening verbs, you might wanna give your opening a kick in the pants. Maybe.
So here we go. These are my first ten verbs and it won't take you long to figure out, it's not a romance. Well, duh. I don't know HOW to write romance, but I'm working on it. Welcome to this brief glance into my screenwriting mind.

flips * winces * yanks * waves * smolder *
whimper * presses * fires * crawl * gurgles

Funny. That almost sounds like a fencing match. Lunge! Thrust! Parry! Appropriate for me, don'tcha think?

(naturally, you fencing experts will point out that there is not just ONE parry position but Prime, Seconde, and Tierce didn't fit my rhythm and are not easily recognized by the average reader, so back off! Ahem, I mean retreat!)

The sun isn't even up and it's time for me to shed these blue tights and red cape, transform into a mild mannered executive, and go leap tall politicians in a single bound. No time to surf around to see who's already been tagged. So, if you haven't already been tagged, TAG! Now, you too can be IT! And, you better participate because I will be checking and there WILL be a test!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Missing Story Beats

WFAA reporter Bert Lozano didn't miss a beat when a Streaker ran in front of the camera during his live report from The Colony. He barely blinked as a man in the buff blew past him, flopping in the breeze and honking a boat horn.

The reminder here for me, as a screenwriter, is to not allow unforeseen distractions to pull me off task to the point where I miss a beat -- a story beat. I'm easily distracted during the first draft if things don't work the way I planned in my outline -- things like potential side streets, clarifications, details that need expanding, character inconsistencies, potential plot holes, and stuff that just needs to be axed. My response is to immediately stop and deal with the problem right then and there.

Shame on me.

I should trust my outline. If not, I need to write a better outline.

Not only do interruptions disengage me from the story, but by extinguishing little fires, I'm likely starting one somewhere else in the story. The better approach for me is to make notes along the way and deal with the unforeseen once the primary objective of completing the rough draft is done. Then I can take a holistic look at the story and save myself a lot of grief.

May not work. But, that's my plan.

I have no doubt that the moment the camera was off, Bert either erupted in laughter or said something like "Hey, dude, nice evening for a brisk walk!" Whatever he said or did was AFTER he'd completed his report and he didn't let it shift his focus. Well done, Bert.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Idol Disappointment

So if you never watch the reality TV show, American Idol, skip this post or suck it up and indulge me. I'll get back to screenwriting tomorrow. Been under the weather and I have ENTIRELY too much time on my hands. Also, I'm a singer. AI is required viewing for singers. It's the law.

Naturally, viewers have conflicting ideas about who should continue in the competition and who should go home but while I don't lose sleep over the program, in five years, this was the most unexpected departure I've seen yet. Mandisa was my personal favorite alongside Chris whom I expect to be the first white guy to win American Idol. My blog. My opinion. Of course, I thought Chris and Mandisa would be the final two. Shows how little I know.

Not only is Mandisa a breathtakingly beautiful woman with the most mature and reliable voice of the Idol herd, but even at fourteen years my junior, I can only hope to one day demonstrate her graceful strength and sweet spirit.

But alas, I didn't vote and like I say to citizens who complain about their elected officials, if you don't vote, you don't have a whole lot of room to gripe about the results.

Where's Feast?

RELEASE DATE: 2006-10-00
DIRECTOR: John Gulager
WRITER: Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunston
STARRING: Navi Rawat, Krista Allen, Balthazar Getty, Judah Friedlander, Jenny Wade, Duane Whitaker, Josh Zuckerman, Eileen Ryan, Clu Gulager, Diane Goldner, Anthony
STUDIO: Dimension Films

October, 2006. Well, that's what says anyway and Judah Friedlalnder (Beer Guy) seems to be of the same opinion. The Project Greenlight website says Feast is still in post production and a release date "has not been locked yet". Huh? Ben, Matt, update your site, boys! Meanwhile, Gulager was quoted in October saying Feast was due to be released January, 2006. Stop the lies, people!

Big Business or Bad Writing?

Almost two years ago, I wrote my first post on Wordplay having just finished writing what I thought was an amazing story. The screenplay is painful for me to read today because the writing is so very bad. There are no words in my vocabulary to tell you how dreadful the writing in that screenplay is. I'm working on a rewrite because I still think it is a good story, maybe not amazing but with some hard work it might get there. A lot has happened since then. I've written several screenplays. My writing has improved. I've had Indy's interested in my work. I've secured an agent. But while I know a lot more now than I knew on May 4, 2004, I also know that I am still a screenwriting infant.

I like to review advice I've gotten in the past because I usually glean something that I missed before. If you're reading this on a feed or you're too lazy to go read my original questions, basically I asked in that post (1) if there is really that much brilliant talent out there trying to get noticed or is there a flood of poorly written crap and (2) how do I know if I'm a poser?

My favorite response, posted by somebody who called himself Leo, is still (two years later) well worth reading. I probably can't post the answer in its entirety without violating some sort of copyright law but the paraphrased gist is:

(1) Yes, there is a tsunami of pathetic crap crashing at the gates of Hollywood and posing as brilliant work by genius writers who think they can't catch a break.

(2) If you're a sensible person and good writer, you can fix anything you write that sucks because you are willing and able to learn.

So, having reviewed these remarks, along with a few opposing comments about the shallowness and hype in Hollywood, I'm rewriting that screenplay that sucks. Let's see how just much I've learned in the past couple of years.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Humble Again

Okay, Humble, Texas, is this some kind of wicked game you are playing with my feeble mind? If so, as Percival C. McLeach (George C. Scott) said in Rescuers Down Under, my mental faculties are TWICE what yours are, you PEA BRAIN! Love that line. Such a cleverly written accidental self diss. I really want to come up with something like that for my protagonist to say to her love interest in my latest --

Hey! Don't change the subject!

You spent seventy one minutes and thirty seconds reading eighteen pages on this blog yesterday, Humble. Eighteen pages? Yeah, I'd love to believe I'm THAT engaging, THAT informative, THAT valuable to the screenwriters of the blogosphere but even though I managed to get a nifty agent, I am still unproduced, unopted, and about to go back to work full time in local government so don't take me too seriously. I'm an evil she-devil and I really don't know what I'm talking about.

Who are you, Humble? Are you my beloved Aunt Sharon? Gimme a call, Auntie, I never can reach you on your cell phone. Cousin Davy? How's that job hunt going, Dave? Uncle James? Feel okay? Done with chemo?

Who else could it be -- let's see. My high school love is in the Houston area, but he hasn't emailed me since he remarried. Funny how that happens. Is that you, Kevin? I bet you threw my love letters away too, you cad. But, ha! I saved yours, so there!

My cousin, Natalie, works for NASA. That's the other side of the world from Humble. She was a bit of a ditz as a young girl and then one day in high school, everything clicked and she became megabrain! She has a t-shirt that says, "Yes, As a Matter of Fact, I AM a Rocket Scientist!" Gotta love that. I played the flute at her wedding. She didn't ask me to sing. Go figure. I'll have to tell you guys about Natalie sometime. Oh wait. Just did. Ever gonna have kids, Nat? You've been married, what? Five years now!

I digress.

Okay, my long lost brother is in the Richmond/Sugarland vicinity so it's probably not him investigating what kind of person this half sister is who writes, emails and puts a gift under the tree for his son every year despite his apparent desire to have nothing to do with me. Some day, Quentin, I'll give ya a shout out at the Oscars. Guess you'll confess to knowing me then!

So, who are you, Humble?

Are you a stalker? I own a gun. Big one. Can't miss. Okay, yeah, I actually DO miss but if I aim at your feet, I'll most likely hit something vital in your upper hemisphere. Even if I don't, you'll lose a knee cap at the very least.

Are you a producer, Humble? Are you Sandra Bullock? I suck at Rom Coms, Sandy, but -- no, Sandra is in the Smithville area outside Austin. Matthew McConaughey? Meet me in person, dude. I'm not nearly as boring over dinner and I'll do rewrites under the table for free regardless of what WGA says because I'm a team player and because you're hot. Yeah, I know I just told Sandra that I suck writing Rom Coms but aren't you burned out after Failure to Launch?

Fine. I give up, Humble. You've perplexed me. Enjoy the blog.

UPDATE: Okay, Humble, I KNOW you have read this. You JUST spent seventeen minutes and thirteen seconds reading two pages. Yeah, you. I'm talking to you. Just how many people from Humble, Texas do you think come here? All I want to know is who the heck you are! And, if you are a screenwriter. Oh, and if you like me. Hey, do you know my aunt and uncle? Email me!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Finding the Romance (Part 2)

Okay, so I've taken steps toward rediscovering (or resurrecting) my romantic side in order to give more dimension to my sterile characters. The goal here is not to become a writer of Rom Coms but to write a Rom Com in order to create better characters. Clear as molasses? I've read through my screenwriting books, ordered Billy Mernit's book, gotten some good Rom Com viewing recommendations, and am taking notes on couples in malls, parks, sporting events, restaurants and movies. On that note, I know I'm not particularly romantic, but who makes out in the middle of Ice Age 2? Geez!!

Anyway, I still haven't tried Uberpossum's suggestions but it's only because I haven't had a private moment. I really don't want the kids to see me dolling up and singing "Love Will Keep Us Together" to my computer monitor. Oh, the things we do for our craft!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Who's Humble?

Noticed on Sitemeter this past week that I have a faithful reader in Humble, Texas, who checks in regularly, views every page I write, and spends five to ten minutes on my blog almost every day. How cool is that! This person could be my beloved aunt, uncle, or cousin. It could even be the golfer I mentioned a couple of blogs ago or the brother I haven't seen since he was four years old. Most likely though, Humble is a wannabe screenwriter who is gleening little grains of wisdom from my daily commentaries on screenwriting and --- pffffft!! Ha. Hello, Auntie!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

When I Was Marlo Thomas

Got some advice from a screenwriter the other day. "Get on the set," he said, "be an extra. Do whatever you have to do but get on a set and make contacts." Hmm. You know, I actually did that once --

Almost eleven years ago, as a set person for Walker, Texas Ranger was at City Hall to get a permit for an explosion, he suggested that I appear on the set as an extra. I'm not a willowy glamour puss and while I have no qualms about singing to twenty thousand people in a stadium or speaking to a press corps with bulbs flashing, I can't pose for a family photo without breaking out in cold sweat. I am painfully aware of my crooked nose, fat face, squinty eyes, the eyelid that closes slower than the other and these giant cavernous dimples in my chin and cheeks. My sometimes pathetic insecurity demanded that I decline.

That weekend, the City Manager called me at home and informed me that it wasn't optional. Somehow, me standing in the background of a fake bank robbery was going to boost economic development in our small town. Fine. Whatever makes the boss happy enough to remember my pay increases.

The whole "extra" adventure can be underwhelming. I had specific instructions on what kind of clothes to bring, how to style my hair, where to get my wardrobe approved and how much makeup to wear. But when I arrived on the set at 5:30 a.m., my friend, Susan, and I were two of a hundred nobodies crammed into a cafe for the opening scene. Other extras were practically orgasmic as they jockeyed for seats near the shooting but Susan and I huddled in the back, mortified that we had so little makeup and bags under our eyes.

We were plotting our escape when the cafe fell silent. A producer was walking the room checking everyone out saying stuff like "too much hair", "get him in the back" and "we won't be needing that one". Suddenly, he made eye contact with me in the far corner of the room and said, (no kidding) "Bring me that girl!"

Huh? Me? Whoa!

I was whisked to a booth in the middle of the action and seated next to a kind faced Average Joe who instructed me to mouth my ABC's at him when the cameras started rolling and to not worry if his hand touched my knee. We were a couple. Right. Like the camera is gonna see your hand under the table? Oh well. I was just so flattered to be in the scene. "Don't be," Average Joe said, "they never let attractive people near the stars." What the? I swatted his hand from my knee and sought advice from the couple across the booth who affirmed that only plain (not too attractive, not too ugly) people made it in front of cameras so not to take the viewers eyes off the action in the scene.

Plain? Plain as in boring? Plain as in nobody knows I exist? Or, plain as in ugly but not ugly enough to call ugly?

The minute that scene was over, I scraped up what was left of my self esteem and prepared to go home. But Susan hadn't been used yet so I waited it out with her. Eight hours later, her butt was filmed passing a feed store. We were having a jolly laugh about which was more plain and boring, my face or her butt, when a casting person said we were both being used for the bank robbery. I'd already been used, I explained. No problem. They'd put me at the back.

I don't need to tell you that they did NOT put me at the back. Nope. I was right there at the teller window through eleven agonizing takes giving me plenty of time to assess my appearance. Not only was I not noticeable, but I was SO not noticeable that nobody expected viewers to notice that they had already not noticed me in the diner. Holy crap! What was wrong with me? Was I really that forgettable? Would my plain-ness accelerate with age? Would my kids bury me with a paper sack over my head or just close the casket?

Meanwhile, with each take, the bank robber got closer and closer to me until in the final take, he jumped on the counter behind me, shoved his gun in my face and screamed "do you think I'm crazy?" But I didn't hear "do you think I'm crazy?" I heard those horrible words, "they never let attractive people near the stars", and I erupted into tears. Really.

A director approached me after that take and told me what I good job I'd done. "You ever consider becoming a character actor?" he asked, "You really looked scared." Well, duh! I was terrified of blending in with the beige bank walls! Oh well. I smiled and thanked him. I didn't want to tell him what I had really been afraid of.

I have since seen that episode twice -- once on purpose -- and the scene does NOT show the bank robbing star shoving his gun in my face or getting anywhere near me. I choose to believe that editors decided that I was just too noticeable. Please. Nobody tell me otherwise.